What You Need To Know About The Wide And Varied World Of Chili Crisps

Hot sauce has the incredible ability to utterly transform a dish's taste profile. With just a few quick flicks of the wrist, your chosen bottle of spicy sauce will shower your food with flavor. It's no wonder why essentially every type of cuisine has invented a hot sauce of some sort.

In the U.S., the most common hot sauces are made from a base of vinegar and cayenne pepper, per Condé Nast Traveler. South American versions of the condiment are made from a wide variety of peppers, like the arbol chili-based Cholula, while in Africa, complex spice blends characterize hot sauces. Of course, delicious hot sauces have also emerged from every corner of Asia. In Korea, for example, you can spice up your dinner with gochujang, or fermented chili paste.

You should know about another type of spicy condiment that originated in Asia, and it has many iterations and uses.

What is chili crisp?

According to Today, chili crisp is a multifaceted condiment that was originally mass-produced in 1997 by Lao Gan Ma, based on the recipe of noodle shop proprietor Tao Huabi. Its popularity made Tao Huabi a multi-millionaire. Comparable condiments have existed in China for hundreds of years. Essentially, chili crisps combine a variety of fried ingredients, which include, of course, chilis, as well as aromatics and other spices, with oil. The result is a sauce bursting with complex, spicy flavor, that also has a nice crunchy texture. New York City chef Lucas Sin explains that chili crisp is different because it has a higher ratio of fried bits to spicy oil, via Today. 

Since its inception in the '90s, chili crisp has become a global phenomenon, per CBS News. Some more modern versions have toned down the chili content, in order to appease the spice-sensitive palates of non-Chinese consumers. Today, there are countless chili crisps available all around the world, which feature a wide variety of ingredients.

The wide world of chili crisps

The Washington Post provides us with a diverse list of delicious chili crisps that you can serve with dinner. Of course, you can still buy the original chili crisp, Lao Gan Ma. The official Lao Gan Ma website sells several varieties of their classic condiment. There's Momofuku Chili Crunch, which was concocted at David Chang's famous restaurant franchise. Today tells us that this sauce version features shiitake mushroom powder, which kicks up the condiment's umami flavors. Momofuku Chili Crunch is built on a base of three Mexican chilies, and you can get it at Whole Foods. Even Trader Joe's got in on the chili crisp game with their Crunchy Chili Onion sauce.

When you're cooking, there is no shortage of ways to incorporate chili oil into your dish. It works well drizzled on many food items, and it can be used as a fat substitute in specific sauce recipes. This chile crisp chicken recipe calls for chicken marinated in chili crisp oil. Just be careful — a little dollop of chili crisp can go a long way!